This post is for all of the young moms out there who faithfully wake up every day and give everything that they have to their families. And, it is for all of the mom's who have said to me over the years, "How do you do it??" Those little words have placed a great weight on my heart. A weight of worry, that we are waking each day perceiving other moms to have perfect homes, perfect kids, perfect husbands, perfect lives. We all know those "other moms" who never struggle, can handle the many messes of life better than we can, breezing through the diapers and soccer practices and homework with a fit physique and culinary talents that could easily make her a star on Food Network.
This post is also an invitation for you to come into my home. To see how little merit perceptions really have in the face of reality. To give you encouragement, so that you may know that we are on this journey together. A journey that does indeed have a purpose, a really deep, divine purpose. Wherever you are, whatever your state in life, it is possible to be happy and to find joy in the midst of the muck, the mundane, the madness.
In fact, I'm not sure that you can find authentic joy, authentic happiness anywhere else...
In The Beginning...
I have to admit, up front, that when Steve and I were first married and had two little ones rolling around at our feet, I enjoyed the challenge of making our small apartment homey. I loved keeping it ordered and decorated, filling it with the comforting scents of freshly baked bread and cookies. It was easy to do in a small space, and within the schedule of feedings, naps, daily Mass and play dates, I still had time to study, read, run or work-out almost every day.
Then, came the blessing of more children, and a bigger home and Steve traveling more with work. Soon, the slow-controlled pace down life's scenic slopes suddenly sped up and and the whole "controlled" part of the pace was the first to crash.
That's when I had to let go of so very many things. Yes, things, or better yet ideas and ideals. Ideas of what I should be doing, wearing, who I should be being, where I should be going, and the ideal of making everything just right, or at least appear to be just right. Motherhood from day one (I'm talking conception, here, after all once the baby is conceived you are a mother.), was not easy, it's never easy, it's not supposed to be easy, but the sleep deprivation and ten thousand diaper changes were all catching up with me.
As the messes and laundry and bills piled up, I was out of breath and out of time every day. Time to do something for me, something I enjoyed. And, suddenly the dial of sacrifice was being turned up and I squirmed fiercely with discomfort wishing for it to end. This vocation was just too hard at times, and I didn't like it and I didn't want to be in it.
I really had to hunker down inside my soul and get eye-to-eye with our Lord and tell Him, "Only for You, can I do this, can I be a wife and a mother. And, only with Your help can I do it well. But, you have to show me how, and then give me everything I need to do it, to be it, to live it. And please, when I stomp my feet and fall on the floor and cry, please, please don't give up on me, don't go away. Stay beside me, close beside me."
He heard me. He always hears me, He hears you. And, because His love for us is perfect, He wants us, all of us. Not just pieces of us, our projects and our problems. He desires for our souls to be perfect, not our homes, nor our yards, not our Christmas cards or clothing, just us. And, the way that we get there - to that place of perfection, of holiness - is not going to be through a long list of accomplishments. It's going to be from a long list of "Yes's." Yes to the moment, to the late nights and diaper changes and teaching and disciplining and forgiving and accepting how very weak and fragile we are. Yes to help, lots and lots of help.
Life in a box, Kids in a box, God in a box...
I've always had this special affection for monastic life. The rhythm of work and prayer, silence and song, attention to detail and order, beautiful, beautiful order topped off with joy is so attractive. At first, I tried to run my home and my school like a little monastery. The boys were my little monks. Then the lightening bolt struck and I tried to imagine 100 little boy-monks in a monastery, and realized that they would still pick their noses, miss the toilet and bounce off of the walls there, too.
I also found the Madeline series of stories hopelessly irresistible:
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines
In two straight lines they broke their bread And brushed their teeth and went to bed. They left the house at half past nine In two straight lines in rain or shine-
The smallest one was Madeline.”
And, I wanted to move to Paris and have a home full of girls so that they could show the boys how to make straight lines and brush their teeth.
I was putting my life in a box, the box of my imagination - perfect, tidy, just as I think they all should be. So, God, in His wisdom gave me five boys and a farm. And, nothing in my home is straight and they sometimes forget to brush their teeth, and Paris is very, very far away....
Sometimes at the end of the day and in little moments throughout the day I look for lovely things and realize that I still have ideals, doesn't everyone?? I would be lying to you if I told you that I don't long for this:
A table perfectly set for a beautiful feast, everything in it's place. But my reality is this:
A dining table covered with heaps of laundry that I fold while reviewing for a history test with Andrew.
If only I had the power of Mary Poppins to snap my fingers and tidy up my children's room for them, I would (my little imaginary room from Pottery Barn.) .
Blankets hang from upper bunks, boots and books litter the floor. I know I cannot hover - they must learn to be good stewards of what they've been given, and yet live in their space, and enjoy their little treasures. I try to remind myself as I'm winding through the maze of toys scattered over the floor that their mess is evidence of creativity, constructing, dreaming, imagining. I can teach them how to clean up, I cannot teach the former.
Desiring order and beauty in and of itself is not a bad thing, it points toward the highest beauty the highest order, which is Heaven, and desiring Heaven is the whole point of our existence. Keeping an orderly home is a daily endeavor always at the forefront of my mental list of tasks. The truth is we all function much better in an ordered space. But, the boys are looking to me to show them the balance - the prudence to know when to do the dishes and when to run outside to catch the first snowflakes of winter on our tongues, when to organize the toy room and when to close the door and instead read our pile of library books or make something that will explode or take a nap.
Questions and Confidence...
Everyday I wrestle with the questions of raising our sons: Am I teaching them in the right way? Are they growing strong in mind, body and spirit? Do they know that I love them? Am I a model to them of authentic femininity and modesty in a world so darkened by lies and deceptions? I fight the temptation of feeling inadequate for the task of forming them in all areas of life. But, I know deep down that I am adequate if I am willing to cooperate with God's grace. We all are. No matter how things turn out.
There have been moments where I have been so overwhelmed that I have physically felt the weight of life compressing my chest, sucking the life out of me. Panic and fear settles into my bones and frightens me away from the front lines, where I am needed, where I am called to be.
And, yet, I can say with full confidence that it is not my children who have made me feel overwhelmed. It was, and always is me. Gripping so tightly, clinging firmly to my ways of doing things, to what I think is best. I am the problem-solver, the check-mark maker. I can hold my list up like proof that I'm not failing, not a failure, not feeling like a failure.
Oh how beautifully life comes undone at times, like a rope unraveled! Then, and only then, can God embrace our once tightly-wound selves and be the strength that holds us together. I trust Him.
Breathing in the Beauty...
Then, like the flip of a switch, the light comes in, things become clearer. You cannot describe to anyone how beautiful your life is. How seeing your child's face light up when you walk into a room brings you to your knees. How catching one child forgiving another or giving comfort to a hurt allows an experience of greatness to seep into your soul, filling the cracks of doubt, negativity and resentment with something eternal. How receiving a spontaneous hug from someone so small can soothe old wounds, and freshly felt shame for all of our faults and failures.
It's all so terribly and wonderfully worth it - having children, one two or ten. Don't ever let anyone make you feel or think any different. And, if you are wondering if you can handle another, the answer is yes. His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses.
Perhaps the joy - the real true joy that we as Christian mothers often posses - is the decoy that throws others off target. Perhaps they think that because we are joyful that we must not suffer, we must not struggle, we must not fail, we must not swear and pout and eat chocolate and watch movies. That's not real. That's not me, or you, is it?
Every week the UPS man comes to our house delivering some sort of package for our home or business. I know that he has peered into my home, messes everywhere, and myself, a mess to match, never a stitch of make-up, shoulder soaked with spit up, never mind the hair. But, he always treats me the same, with kindness, with attentiveness. That's when I realize that other people, in general, are okay with me. Maybe I'm just not okay with myself. Maybe the apologies that gush forth when an unexpected visitor arrives over the messy house and children duking it out in the background are not about the visitor, but about me, my insecurities. A clean home and polite children say to the guest, "See, I can handle this, and I'm good at this motherhood thing."
Perceptions, perceptions, perceptions.
Eye on the Prize...
What matters, my friends, what really, truly matters is that we recognize that this life and the vocation that we live is not about doing good or being good at anything or looking good while being good and doing good. It's about the reception of the gift of motherhood, with everything it brings, and the handing it back to God, day by day, minute by minute and allowing Him to lead us, to help us, to love us. To believe in His mercies and his blessings, and to begin again, and again, and again.
Express gratitude. Even when your lists of wants seem to overpower any emotion of thanksgiving. Gratitude helps us recognize that the little boy patiently waiting for you in the wagon for another ride around the yard is the voice of our Lord telling you that this is exactly what He wants you to do today, even if it doesn't look like much. It looks like everything to Him. Who cares what it looks like to everyone else?
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
and watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
~Leisure by William Henry Davies (1871-1940)